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Meet Caitlin Foster of Esselda Music

Today we’d like to introduce you to Caitlin Foster.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Caitlin. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
In third grade, I brought home a flyer to my mom advertising group violin lessons soon to be offered at my elementary school. That day started me on a path into music that I am still following today, fifteen years later.

I joined the San Diego Civic Youth Orchestra in high school, rather late for a violinist. I started out in their intermediate level string orchestra and gradually worked my way up to concertmaster, then to the first violin section of the small Symphonic Orchestra, and finally to the program’s full Symphony Orchestra. It was here that I was first introduced to the great classical and romantic composers of the orchestra – Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, etc. I fell in love with the orchestral sound and quickly discovered my affinity for the music of the Romantic Era.

Around this time, I switched high schools and watched the cinematic masterpiece that is “Lord of the Rings.”

Whenever I am asked what sparked my desire to be a composer I always trace it back to Howard Shore’s score to the film adaptations of Tolkien’s trilogy. It was the first time I felt truly aware of and moved by a film score. At Mission Vista High School I began taking the first of three composition classes under director Anne Fennell. The first class was structured as an introduction to music composition and theory. One of the first assignments we did was walk around campus and listen to different sounds and attempt to draw them. This and similar activities were designed to give students an aural awareness and attention to detail. Our first composition assignment was to create a piece in any style using Apple loops in GarageBand.

Because of my background as a violinist, I immediately went for the orchestral loops, purely driven by instinct rather than skill. Over the course of the semester, the class was gradually weaned off of stitching loops together to composing their own original melodies and motives. As my high school years were coming to a close I had several daunting decisions to make. Where was I going to go to college? And what would I major in? I loved music and was fascinated by film production. At first, I considered pursuing a performance degree in violin to later become a studio musician. However, I knew I did not want to spend the rest of my life in a soundproof practice room. That’s when I began entertaining the thought of becoming a composer, particularly a film composer.

Fast forward to April of 2014 when I was accepted into Biola University’s Conservatory of Music and found out I was one of two recipients of the Biola High School Composition Competition. What started out as an obsession with Lord of the Rings and a little girl’s request to take violin lessons was becoming a very realistic dream. Now I am in my senior year pursuing my Bachelor of Music degree in Music Composition at Biola. Over the course of my college years, I have had the incredible opportunity to score numerous student films and study under professors who simultaneously work in the film and music industries. Attending college in Los Angeles has allowed me to attend local panels and events to meet and network with other professionals in the industry.

I continue to play the violin as the Violin II section leader in the Biola Symphony Orchestra. A few weeks ago I began an internship with Grammy award-winning composer Christopher Tin as his first intern. I am currently writing my first concert work for full orchestra to be performed by the Biola Symphony Orchestra at my senior recital in December. I can honestly say that it is thanks to my amazing family, friends, professors and faith in Christ that I have had these opportunities and am able to pursue my dream.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I have faced many challenges along the way but through the support of close friends and family and God’s strength I have been able to and continue to overcome them.

One of the initial challenges I faced was figuring out how to finance my college studies. The private universities at the top of my list had some of the highest tuition rates. I would not be able to attend unless I received significant financial aid from scholarships and loans. Thankfully, my hard work in high school paid off and I was offered several top-tier academic scholarships for my GPA and SAT scores. I received additional scholarships from the music conservatories I had auditioned with for violin and composition. I submitted numerous applications for outside scholarships with zero expectations.

Weeks later, I was ecstatic to hear that I was the recipient of the Barta-Lehman Musical Scholarship through the San Diego Foundation and one of two winners of the second annual Biola High School Composition Competition.

I have faced other challenges in juggling my studies with career-related projects like film scoring. I’ve often told incoming students that one of the most difficult aspects of college is learning to manage your time well. As a composition student, I am often taking a full load of classes every semester (18+ units) that consists anywhere between 10-13 classes, lessons and ensembles. In addition, I am actively pursuing projects outside of coursework to score student films and develop an established portfolio.

This has often resulted in many sleepless nights to complete scores on time and to the satisfaction of a director. I have also had to turn down projects because I have felt I could not complete a project within a given deadline due to homework or felt I did not have the time necessary to produce quality music. Despite these challenges, I have been able to collaborate with several amazing Biola student directors and it’s allowed me to develop my skills and shape my unique sound as a film composer.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Esselda Music – what should we know?
My field of work is a bit different than your average business in that I am entirely self-employed and work on a project-by-project basis. As a composer, my services encompass a wide variety of specific talents, from film scoring to arranging wedding music to music prep. What sets me apart is my unique “sound” as a composer and my commitment to quality service regardless of the job. My experience as a violinist and orchestra member has given me a unique insight into writing for strings and the inner-workings of symphonic music.

I also have my own home studio where I can score a film without a single live instrument, relying on virtual instruments to create mock-ups. Solo violin is a popular film scoring tool for emotional weight and I have the rare ability to compose, perform and record live violin myself. The art of orchestration is one specific area that I have fallen in love with and continue to pursue as a career.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
I believe the most important characteristic to my success is communication. Communication means several things. One is that I am able to understand and realize a client’s vision. In the case of a film director, I need to be able to discern their emotional intent behind a scene and capture that core idea in the music. Film and gaming music is entirely collaborative and my job as a composer is to marry their visual picture with my aural landscape. I must be able to clearly communicate my ideas and translate technical music terms into a language that is understandable to others unfamiliar with the compositional jargon.

Second, I must be able to communicate with my audience. Music is just background noise unless someone makes an emotional connection to it. That is the power of music. I believe one of the best ways to achieve this is to balance musical skill with emotional authenticity. I cannot communicate well without an understanding of music theory, orchestration techniques, counterpoint, etc. However, I cannot allow what determines technically “good” music to be my sole purpose for making music.

Bach himself, considered the Father of modern music theory, broke his own rules all the time. I have to use my academic understanding of music as a tool in a quest to effectively communicate with my audience and make a genuine emotional connection.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Stacy Foster & Julianne Foster

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